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NightWatch 20110720


For the Night of 20 July 2011

North Korea: The Telegraph reported, in paraphrase, that six million North Koreans might be starving, but the children of the elite can order take-out from McDonalds in China, using Air Koryo -- the national airlines -- to make the deliveries to their homes.

McDonald's has no franchises in North Korea, but has 850 in China. North Korea has no banking relationship, such as credit cards, with the United States. American dollars buy junk food in China for the families of the senior party members and have it delivered.

According to The Telegraph report, Kim Chong-il indulges this and other extravagances as bribes in return for support for his third son as the next leader of North Korea. Some North Koreans consider Chinese-made McDonald's hamburgers to be delicacies.

Afghanistan: For the record. Messages sent from the telephone numbers of two Taliban spokesmen, Qari Yousef Ahmadi and Zabihollah Mojahed, said Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has died, according to the Afghan Islamic Press.

Mojahed denied the reports, saying the enemy's spy agency - i.e., the CIA -- sent the messages from Taliban telephones and also is interfering with the Taliban website. Mojahed said rumors about the death of Mullah Omar are false, adding that Mullah Omar is alive and well and commanding jihad operations inside Afghanistan.

Comment: Omar apparently is alive, but the counter-cyber tactic looks very effective.

Syria: Security. Loyalist troops commanded by President Bashar al Assad's brother surrounded the Damascus suburb of Harasta on 20 July.

According to a resident of the suburb of 150,000 people, hundreds of Fourth Division troops have sealed off all of Harasta's entrances. The resident said the troops are wearing combat fatigues, helmets, ammunition belts and carrying assault rifles. Water, electricity and phone service has been cut.

Comment: The significant point is that the activity is taking place in a suburb of Damascus. That means the government is taking extra efforts to ensure that Damascus remains secure from demonstrations. Nevertheless, the effort to defend Damascus is slowly increasing, which means the position of Bashar al-Asad is weakening.

Politics. In a coming televised national address, President Bashar al-Asad will offer new changes in elections, plus legislation to allow multiple candidates to run for president, sources close to al- Asad said. He also is expected to announce a proposal to abolish Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which stipulates that the ruling Baath Party is the sole ruling authority in Syria.

Comment: Syria is applying carrot and stick tactics. It continues to use force against dissidents, while offering conciliatory moves to sway the general population. None of these initiatives have received parliamentary approval.

Syria-US-France: For the record. Syria did not "eject" the French and US ambassadors for traveling outside Damascus without permission because the Syrian government wants to develop good relations and hopes the governments will review their views on Syria, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said during a 20 July lecture at Damascus University.

If ambassadors travel without permission again, the Syrian government will impose restrictions preventing diplomats from traveling farther than 25 kilometers (15 miles) outside Damascus, al-Moallem said.

Comment: Collective punishment of ambassadors so that the fellow ambassadors police themselves is a fundamental precept of Syrian security policy. The US and French ambassadors appear to have been slow learners.

Egypt: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) said it will call for and participate in a million man march scheduled to take place in Tahrir Square and other major centers of protest on 29 July. The MB said the march will protest the circumvention of the people's will and aggression against the people's sovereignty.

Comment: Recent indications from the Egyptian Army that it intends to oversee Egyptian political reforms indefinitely appear to have prompted the Brothers to take a public stand, essentially in opposition to the military-backed government for the first time.

A key member of a panel drafting guidelines for Egypt's next constitution says most of the group's 50 members object to giving the military a future role in politics. Legal expert Tahany el-Gibali said Wednesday that the principles will have enough guarantees to protect all Egyptians while also safeguarding the civilian character of the state."

Comment: The significance of the two stories above is that they reinforce the assessment that the Egyptian Army staged a coup against Mubarak, its strongest backer. The Army sacrificed Mubarak in order to preserve its dominance of the political system.

In short, Egypt experienced no democratic revolution. The Brotherhood knows it and intends to take advantage of the fracture between the Army and the activists. There will be more violent civil disorders.

Malawi: Riots occurred in Malawi's major cities to call for the resignation of President Mutharika on 20 July. One person was killed and several others were injured, which intensified after a Court ruled that demonstrations were not legal. The demonstrators claimed they were protesting fuel shortages and bad government.

Soldiers were deployed in Blantyre, the commercial capital, where police fired tear gas at protesters who had gathered outside the stock exchange in defiance of a court order. In Lilongwe, the national capital, protesters burnt cars, offices and shops belonging to politicians from Mutharika's ruling Democratic Progressive Party and their allies. In the northern city of Mzuzu, demonstrators ransacked the DPP's offices. 

Comment:  The Malawi riots appear to be a delayed spill-over from the so-called Arab uprising.

Tunisia: The main reform committee on Wednesday banned foreign funding of political parties. However, Islamist reservations about the move fueled fears over the post-revolution era. The decision was seen as a key step to ensure fair and honest elections in October. Those elections would be the first since the January collapse of the Ben Ali dictatorship.

Comment: The objections by Islamist parties look like an implied admission that they are conduits for and recipients of funds provided by as yet unidentified foreign benefactors.  Islamist parties always seem to be more than just home-grown reformists but are reluctant to admit it. 

End of NightWatch for 20 July.

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